One in Five Gestational Carriers Do Not Meet ASRM Criteria

Jake Remaly

January 05, 2021

About 20% of gestational carriers at one institution did not meet recommended criteria developed by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, according to a retrospective study of 194 patients.

Dr Brett Stark

The University of California, San Francisco, offers additional, stricter recommendations, including that gestational carriers have a body mass index less than 35. Under these stricter criteria, about 30% of the gestational carriers did not meet recommendations, Brett Stark, MD, MPH, reported at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's 2020 annual meeting, held virtually this year.

Deviating from BMI or age recommendations may be associated with increased likelihood of spontaneous abortion, the analysis suggested. In addition, elements of a gestational carrier's obstetric history not described in current guidelines, such as prior preterm birth, may influence gestational surrogacy outcomes.

The study was limited by incomplete information for some patients, the retrospective design, and the reliance on a relatively small cohort at a single center. Nevertheless, the findings potentially could inform discussions with patients, said Stark, a 3rd-year obstetrics and gynecology resident at the university.

Investigators aim to enroll patients in a longitudinal cohort study to further examine these questions, he said.

Protecting Intended Parents and Carriers

"Gestational surrogacy has become an increasingly common form of third-party reproduction," Stark said at the virtual meeting. The number of cases of in vitro fertilization (IVF) with gestational carriers increased from approximately 700 in 1999 to more than 5,500 in 2016, according to data from the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. "Despite the increasing prevalence of gestational carrier utilization, there remains limited guidance with regard to optimizing outcomes for both the intended parents and gestational carriers."

ASRM and UCSF recommendations are based on expert opinion and include surprisingly little discussion about the prior pregnancy outcomes of potential gestational carriers, Stark said.

"It is important for all parties involved that we generate research and data that can help drive the development of the guidelines," he said. Such evidence may help intended parents understand characteristics of gestational carriers that may lead to live births. "For the gestational carriers, it is important that we have information on safety so that they know they are making appropriate decisions for their family and their life."

Gestational carrier characteristics in the present study that deviated from 2017 ASRM recommendations included age less than 21 years or greater than 45 years, mental health conditions, and having more than five prior deliveries.

"ASRM guidelines focused on criteria for gestational carriers are meant to protect infertile couples, the carrier, as well as the supporting agency," Alan Penzias, MD, chair of ASRM's Practice Committee who is in private practice in Boston, said in a society news release that highlighted Stark's study. "It is important that gestational carriers have a complete medical history and examination, in addition to a psychological session with a mental health professional to ensure there are no reasons for the carrier to not move forward with pregnancy."

A retrospective study by Kate Swanson, MD, and associates found that nonadherence to ASRM guidelines was associated with increased rates of cesarean delivery, neonatal morbidity, and preterm birth.

To examine how adherence to ASRM and UCSF recommendations relates to pregnancy outcomes and maternal and neonatal morbidity and death, Stark and colleagues assessed births from gestational carrier pregnancies at UCSF between 2008 and 2019.

Of 194 gestational carriers included in the analysis, 98.9% had a prior term pregnancy, 11.9% had a prior preterm pregnancy, and 17.5% had a prior spontaneous abortion.

Indications for use of gestational surrogates included serious medical condition of intended parent (25%), uterine factor infertility (23%), recurrent pregnancy loss (10%), and same-sex male couples (8%).

When the researchers compared pregnancy outcomes for gestational carriers who met ASRM guidelines with outcomes for 38 gestational carriers who did not meet ASRM guidelines, there were no statistically significant differences. Antepartum, intrapartum, and postpartum complication rates and cesarean delivery rates did not significantly differ based on ASRM guideline adherence.

Nonadherence to the stricter UCSF guidelines, however, was associated with increased likelihood of spontaneous abortion. In all, 23.7% of the 59 gestational carriers who were nonadherent to UCSF guidelines had a pregnancy end in a spontaneous abortion, compared with 6.7% of gestational carriers who were adherent to the UCSF recommendations (odds ratio, 4.35).

An analysis of individual criteria and poor pregnancy outcomes found that BMI greater than 35 was associated with increased likelihood of spontaneous abortion (OR, 4.29), as was age less than 21 years or greater than 45 years (OR, 3.37).

Prior spontaneous abortion was associated with increased likelihood of a biochemical pregnancy (OR, 3.2), and prior preterm birth was associated with increased likelihood of spontaneous abortion (OR, 3.19), previable delivery (OR, 25.2), cesarean delivery (OR, 2.59), and antepartum complications (OR, 3.56).

The Role of Agencies

About 76% of the gestational carriers had pregnancies mediated through a gestational surrogacy agency. Surrogates from agencies were about three times more likely than surrogates who were family, friends, or from private surrogacy arrangements to adhere to ASRM and UCSF guidelines.

Even after hearing about gestational carrier recommendations, patients may prefer to work with someone they know. "We want to provide our patients with evidence-based information if possible, but ultimately it is their decision to make," Stark said. "And we just need to make sure that they are making an informed decision."

Stark had no relevant disclosures. Penzias helped develop the ASRM committee opinion. He had no relevant conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Stark B et al. ASRM 2020, Abstract O-251.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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